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Great Things in a Small Package
Netbooks make a great holiday gift. They are inexpensive (at least in comparison to most other computers), but they fill a very specific role. If someone asks for a netbook, you pretty much know what to go look for. They're also perpetually cool, and are useful even for people who already have a laptop which acts as a desktop replacement.With that said, there are a few netbooks which stand out from the crowd and offer features that other netbooks cannot match. The three netbooks listed here are the ones to buy if you're looking at a netbook as a holiday gift.
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HP Mini 311
What makes the HP Mini 311 special is that is was the first netbook in the United States to offer Nvidia's Ion platform, and it still remains largely unchallenged. The Ion platform, for those wondering, is simply a chipset built by Nvidia for Atom based computers which included integrated Geforce 9400 mobile graphics. While this GPU is not going to set any performance records, and will still struggle with many 3D games, it is never the less a powerful addition which makes the HP Mini 311 a more entertaining netbook then its rivals.
It isn't a one trick pony, either. Battery life is still about six hours, which is respectable if not class-leading, and the overall feel of the unit is excellent. The keyboard is wide, the screen bright, and the trackpad large. This, to an extent, should be expected due to the HP Mini 311's 11.6 inch screen and correspondingly large body. Even the price is right, as most retailers offer the Mini 311 at about $400 bucks. That is only slightly more then a good non-Ion netbook.
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Netbooks are great traveling companions, but not everyone uses them to do a lot of typing. If, however, you're looking to buy a netbook for someone who is constantly writing emails and articles the Samsung N110 must be given a look. Samsung has been known for its class leading keyboards since the Samsung NC10, and the N110 is no different. The keyboard is fairly large for a netbook keyboard, and just as importantly is has a solid, robust feel. In fact, there are laptops costing thousands of dollars which have less satisfactory keyboards then what the N110 offers.
The N110 also is big on battery life, offering between 7 and 8 hours, which makes it among the longest lasting netbooks available today. Factor in a boatload of features, like a webcam, bluetooth and a vibrant gloss screen and you have yourself one of the best netbooks money can buy. But the best part is that all of this quality doesn't cost a fortune. The N110 can now be had for around $350 at most retailers, and if you find one on sale you can expect to grab it for just over $300 bucks.
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MSI Wind U123
Despite being around since the beginning, MSI's Wind netbooks were never given as much attention as those from some other makers. Their cardinal sin has been a lack of distinctiveness. That is not to say their netbooks are ugly, because they're not. Or that they're underpowered, because they have the same hardware as any other netbook. But while Asus has been blabbering on about how their netbooks look like seashells, MSI has remained quiet.
But is that a bad thing? I think not. Netbooks, despite the huge variety of options in brand, model, and even color, are all extremely similar. They all run Atom processors, they usually ship with 1GB of RAM and a slow 160GB hard drive. The MSI Wind is no different. And while the Wind U123 doesn't excel in any one area, it provides a good amount of everything. It looks better then average, its keyboard is better then average, its battery life is better then average, and its features are better then average.
The only thing lower then average is the Wind U123's price of $300 dollars, and at that price it is a steal. If you'd like to gift a netbook this holiday season, but don't have the deepest of pockets, the MSI Wind U123 is the one to get.